JANUARY 31, 2017–
For any band’s rock n’ roll story to be great, it has to include the stars aligning just so in order for some magic to take place.
The tale of Indie Duo Bearcoon’s Long Beach story goes like this:
Once upon a time, there was a music therapist named Andrea Walker, who dug up her southern roots to head west and take a job in Norwalk, California. Soon after arriving in California, she made a friend who invited her to the city of Long Beach. After spending so much time there, she decided to make the new, welcoming community her home.
While Andrea was making new friends and writing songs in Long Beach, singer Solange Igoa decided to leave her small town in Central California. Though just out of high school, Igoa had already tired of living in the kind of town whose biggest claim to fame was an annual county fair and one refurbished downtown theatre. Ready to explore the world, she took up a friend’s offer to move with them to Long Beach.
Here’s the magical part– during a party at a mutual friend’s house in 2011, Igoa and Walker met for the first time. Andrea picked up a guitar and started playing. Solange joined in and started singing. There was an instant “something special” there.
After the party, the two parted ways and returned to their respective music endeavors. Andrea, however, could not get the notion of being in a band with Solange out of her head. After some soul searching, she knew that forming a band with Solange was the right path for her. She reached out to Solange and their partnership began. Upon settling on the foundation that one is a Bear, and the other, a Raccoon, thus creating a musical spirit animal — Bearcoon.
As a new duo, the two ladies had an immediate impact on the local music scene. They won Buskerfest in 2014, recorded an album with their winnings, earned the title of OC Weekly‘s “Best Folk Act,” released their first full album El Guapo, went number one on Amazon’s “Hot New Releases” chart, then traded in their apartment and most of their worldly possessions for an old van and the open road. The raw talent of Bearcoon combined with their bold leaps of faith, and unwavering commitment to the integrity of their craft, will undoubtedly catapult them to greatness.
(Not) The end
I sat down with Bearcoon‘s guitarist Andrea Walker after the band’s Laminak EP release party. We had a long talk about the road, their recording process, and the future. Here are some excerpts from our conversation:
Jewell Faamaligi [LBI] After the release of your first album El Guapo, you guys left Long Beach to live on the road for over a year. You have now circled back to work on this new body of work with Antoine Arivizu again at The Compound Studio. Let’s start by talking about what happened in the middle of your journey and what coming home has been like.
[Walker] I counted it up a few weeks ago and realized that since leaving Long Beach we’ve gigged in at least 25 different cities. We’ve spent the bulk of our time on the road in Portland, Eugene, Ashland, San Luis Obispo/Morro Bay, Half Moon Bay, and Bakersfield. Half Moon Bay has a very special place in our hearts. We spend time there throughout the year to get a respite from the road and to meditate on new directions.
[LBI] Which communities have really embraced you?
[Walker] Portland OR, Eugene OR, Ashland OR, Half Moon Bay CA, and Bakersfield CA. We’ve got a handful of close friends in each of those towns so we love gigging and spending time there.
[LBI] What did you learn about yourselves on the road?
[Walker] On the road we’ve learned to be much more self-sufficient than ever before. If something breaks on the van we often don’t have the time or extra cash to hire someone else to fix it, we roll up our sleeves, do some research, and dig in and fix it ourselves.
[LBI] What did you not miss as much as you thought you would?
[Walker] We don’t miss the feeling of being “stuck” in our lives. I used to feel pretty depressed a lot of the time, like I was just living for payday and the weekend. We were both working jobs we no longer felt passionate about. Life had begun to feel like a long and monotonous trudge to the grave. I don’t miss that feeling.
[LBI] What did you miss more than you thought you would?
[Walker] I think the thing we miss the most is our friends. Oh, and running water. But yea, we travel so much, sometimes 3-4 different cities a week. We’re always saying goodbye to people that we love. It feels like our hearts are always divided because there are people all over the country that we’re very close to. Our Long Beach family, Solange’s biological family in Bakersfield, my family and old friends in the south, and now our new found road family. No matter where we are, we’re missing so many people.
[LBI] Did so much time on the road have an effect your songwriting relationship?
[Walker] Yes, for sure. It used to be that I would write all the songs and then teach them to Solange. Now, Solange jumps in much earlier in the process; crafting melody lines, writing harmonies, offering suggestions on song structures. Solange is now much more involved from the beginning. I love her input. She’s much cooler than I am.
[LBI] What fed your spirits the most on the road?
[Walker] All of the wonderful friends that we’ve met along the way. Road life can be sad because we’re always saying goodbye to people. But as we leave one town, we have friends waiting for us in the next city. Looking forward to whoever is waiting for us in the next town always keeps us going. And our dogs- I’d say that they bring as much daily joy to our lives as anything else. We’ve redefined the concept of “home” for ourselves over the past year of living in a conversion van on the road. But nothing makes a place feel more like home than having your dogs there!
[LBI] What was the most challenging experience you had on the road?
[Walker] We spent the early part of the winter in Portland OR and our roof was leaking badly (in six different places!). The heater in our van was also broken so we were wet and freezing cold for over a month. Solange’s uncle was kind enough to fix our heater while we were in Portland. But once the heater was fixed, the warmth plus the moisture from the roof leaks created a mold situation you wouldn’t believe. It was everywhere! We went back to Bakersfield to spend the holidays with Solange’s family, but instead of a relaxing break from the road, we spent every single day for 2 1/2 weeks gutting the van down to the metal and rebuilding everything. We worked long days, usually ten to twelve hours a day. And we were on a time crunch too because we had to get back to Long Beach by 1/9/16 for an important show. With some very basic construction skills, and the help of Solange’s dad, we were able to get the entire interior rebuilt. Now it’s better than ever.
[LBI] Did you return to LB with any new insights about your music?
[Walker] Performing on the road for new audiences all the time has really helped us to hone and refine our live performances. When you go into a new town and no one in the audience has ever seen you or heard of you, you really have to work hard to show them why they should care about your band. It’s a lot different than playing in your hometown for your best friends every week.
[LBI] After you finished recording your first album El Guapo that was recorded and produced by Antoine Arivizu he said “This is one of my favorite records I’ve ever worked on, for the music and the experience.” When you returned to the Compound Studio what was this second experience with Antoine like?
[Walker] Our relationship with Antoine has grown so much since the first album we made with him in 2015. It’s come to feel more like a family relationship than just an artist/producer interaction. We’re comfortable enough with each other at this point to all be 100% authentic when we’re working together. It makes for an intensely unique, demanding, but ultimately rewarding experience. We both felt more comfortable bringing new ideas to the table this time around, and as a whole we all pushed ourselves to venture into some new territory artistically speaking.
[LBI] Tell us about the Laminak EP and why you chose to release it as an EP instead of a full album…
[Walker] The recording of a full-length album “Home” started in February 2016. At the time we were both struggling with sickness that interfered with the recording process. We came back in April 2016 and recorded nine songs with Antoine. While we were very happy with some of the tracks, we were unsure about the overall cohesiveness of the album. We spent May and June gigging heavily throughout California and Oregon and in August 2016 we decided to finish and release five of the tracks as an EP, Laminak. We’re still writing and working towards finishing and releasing “Home” the full-length album.
[LBI] There are only five songs on Laminak, but it feels like a complete musical experience. Tell us about this special collection of songs.
[Walker] The EP opens with “Portland,” by far one of our most popular new songs.
It then moves into a moody blues tune called “Apparitions” that was written by Solange. We practiced that song together and then did a few live takes. It turned out that Antoine had the microphones turned on during our practice run and that’s actually the take we ended up putting on the album. It had a special kind of looseness and confidence to it because we didn’t realize we were being recorded.
Then we’ve got “Ships,” which represents our venture into bigger productions with the addition of bass guitar, organ, and some additional voices at the end of the song.
The fourth song is “Holes,” which I wrote during a difficult time on the road. We’d finished rebuilding the van, but were both struggling to remain healthy. We’d been on the road for about seven months and weren’t really sure which direction to move in.
The last song is “Until You’re Mine.” This is the oldest song we’ve ever recorded, having been written by me about five years ago. It’s also one of the tunes where I feel like we pushed ourselves stylistically the most.
[LBI] What do you want to accomplish with this EP?
[Walker] Overall, we’re hoping that Laminak will reflect the maturation process which has been accelerated since we went out on the road. The songs show the variety of our musical influences, from the bluesy “Apparitions” to finger style Spanish guitar of “Until You’re Mine.”
[LBI] You guys posses some rare qualities that only happen when all of these random pieces fit together in just the right way at the right time. Do you feel like this is a special time in your career?
[Walker] We’ve both been playing music our entire lives, but neither of us has ever had so much fun doing it. Things are clicking in a really special way with us. The future is wide open and we’re already so grateful for the journey we’ve had together.
[LBI] If you are to look back at this time ten years from now, what do you most want the music to reflect about who you are right now?
[Walker] We want to remember this time as a period in which we fearlessly chased down our dreams. We hope the music reflects the passion of our pursuit and the authenticity of our effort.
[LBI] With the Laminak EP now released what’s up next for you guys?
[Walker] We’re going to keep writing and working towards getting the next full-length album finished. We’ve got an incredible amount of footage from our travels and live shows and we’re working on getting that put together into a short documentary about road life.
Since returning to Long Beach in December 2016 the duo have been gigging around town, and recently entered their submission to NPR’s “Tiny Desk Concert” series.
During this month’s Bixby Knolls First Fridays event Bearcoon will preform a set with a full band for the first time. Bearcoon‘s full band will be provided by local favorites, and First Fridays monthly residents, MOVE. Some of the members that comprise the MOVE collaborative are Long Beach musicians; founder John Zell and the lovely Rachel Star Albright, Gregory Moore from Tall Walls, Freddie Dilsdale, Roland Cruces,and Heather Jean Somerhauser from Nothing But Flowers. Additional music support for the Bearcoon + MOVE show will also include Antoine Arivizu on drums.
MOVE performances are as unpredictable as their revolving collection of guest musicians and diverse styles. You never know exactly what you will get at a MOVE show. You just have to show up. The energy of MOVEpaired with Bearcoon‘s songs is guaranteed to be something really special.
To follow Bearcoon on social media and purchase their music please visit their website: http://bearcoonmusic.com/